Introduction: An Example of False Teaching and Its Refutation by Fact
I came across this in a work by Presbyterian theologian and known critic of the Catholic Church, RC Sproul. In discussing the meaning of “The Lord’s Supper,” he tries to represent the Catholic position as follows:
There was also another point that was a matter of controversy in the Lord’s Supper. This had to do with the church’s understanding of what actually happens in the drama of the Mass. After the consecration takes place, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that what happens in the Mass is the repetition of the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. Now, the church makes it clear that this repetition of the sacrifice is done in a non-bloody way; nevertheless, they insist that the sacrifice is a real sacrifice. So even though it’s a non-bloody offering, Christ is truly and really sacrificed afresh every time the Mass is offered. The Reformers found that to be blasphemous, as it was a complete rejection of what the book of Hebrews tells us, namely, that Christ offered Himself once and for all (Heb. 10:10). The sufficiency and the perfection of the atonement that Christ made on Calvary was so thorough that to repeat it would be to denigrate the supreme value of the once-for-all atonement that had been made there.
[Sproul, R. C. (2013). What Is the Lord’s Supper? (First edition., p. 57). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.]
However, when one actually bothers to look up what the Church teaches about the Eucharist, the Catechism of the Catholic Church effectively contradicts the claims of Sproul:
1366 The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit: (613)
[Christ], our Lord and God, was once and for all to offer himself to God the Father by his death on the altar of the cross, to accomplish there an everlasting redemption. But because his priesthood was not to end with his death, at the Last Supper “on the night when he was betrayed,” [he wanted] to leave to his beloved spouse the Church a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands) by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit.
1367 The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: “The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different.” “And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner … this sacrifice is truly propitiatory.” (1545)
In other words, what RC Sproul claims we believe is false. We Catholics deny that the Mass is a repetition of the Sacrifice at Calvary. We instead believe that the Sacrifice of Christ at Mass is made present on the altar. And lest anybody think this is a recent change to Church teaching, let’s go back to the teaching of the Council of Trent:
940 [DS 1743] And since in this divine sacrifice, which is celebrated in the Mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner, who on the altar of the Cross “once offered Himself” in a bloody manner [Heb. 9:27], the holy Synod teaches that this is truly propitiatory [can. 3], and has this effect, that if contrite and penitent We approach God with a sincere heart and right faith, with fear and reverence, “we obtain mercy and find grace in seasonable aid” [Heb. 4:16]. For, appeased by this oblation, the Lord, granting the grace and gift of penitence, pardons crimes and even great sins. For, it is one and the same Victim, the same one now offering by the ministry of the priests as He who then offered Himself on the Cross, the manner of offering alone being different. The fruits of that oblation (bloody, that is) are received most abundantly through this un-bloody one; so far is the latter from being derogatory in any way to Him [can. 4]. Therefore, it is offered rightly according to the tradition of the apostles [can. 3], not only for the sins of the faithful living, for their punishments and other necessities, but also for the dead in Christ not yet fully purged.
[Denzinger, H., & Rahner, K. (Eds.). (1954). The Sources of Catholic dogma. (R. J. Deferrari, Trans.) (pp. 289–290). St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co.]
So, we can see here that even at the time that the Protestants were objecting to our “re-sacrificing” Jesus, we were saying it was not a re-sacrifice. We are celebrating the sacrifice of Our Lord which is made present on the altar in a non-bloody manner. In other words, what happens in the Mass is The Sacrifice, not another sacrifice.
The Danger of Teaching Falsehood—Accidentally or Deliberately
So, remembering that Aristotle identified truth as, “saying of what is that it is and of what is not that it is not,” we can see that Sproul did not say of what is that it is. So Sproul did not teach the truth. Whether he spoke sincerely or not, what he said was a falsehood. So it is clear that when it comes to speaking about the Catholic Church, Sproul is not a reliable witness. It leaves us with the question of his motive. Was he ignorant and sincere? Or did he know what we believe and pass this teaching on anyway in spite of his knowledge? Logically, we can say, either he knew or did not know that his words were false.
Either way, his actions are wrong in the eyes of God (Proverbs 19:9 for example). If he did not know that his actions were false, he certainly had the obligation to be certain he was speaking the truth before passing on somebody else’s false witness or rash judgment. If he did know he was speaking falsehood, then he violated the commandment against bearing false witness, which is an abomination (Proverbs 12:22).
God alone will judge him. I do not know whether he honestly believes what he wrote or not. Personally, I think he just passed on what he was told without ever questioning whether or not it was accurate. But consider the fallout of this decision. How many people has he led astray by saying these things? He is known for his books and recordings and videos. Every person he teaches wrongly will continue the teaching of error. At the very least that person wrongly taught will believe a falsehood about the Catholic Church which interferes with his or her ability to learn the truth. At the worst, this person will continue to pass this falsehood on as if it were true, infecting even more people.
Applying The Lesson
I did not write this article in order to bash Sproul or condemn him—in fact I pray for Him. I wrote of this offensive example to show that when we speak or write falsely—whether by failing to assess whether it is true or with full knowledge of the falseness—we do harm to others. This applies to Protestants maligning Catholics. It applies to Catholics maligning the Pope. Whether done by one sincere in their error or by someone who knows it is false, such statements block people from finding the truth, especially truths that lead us to how God wants us to live.
That’s why we must refute the falsehoods spoken.